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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What I'm Reading: Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park was the "IT" teen novel of the spring.  E&P is Rowell's debut novel and it got a ton of advance praise from big name authors like John Green, so with my new YA duties, I made sure I read this one.

E&P is a straight up YA romance in the old school style from the 1980s; in fact, it is set in 1986 so the vibe of the writing and situations extends to the setting too. In fact a colleague said to me that this novel was published in 2013, but it is totally a classic 1980s "problem novel" in many ways.

My soundbite review is that it is Pretty in Pink mixed with a John Green novel and an added dash of High Fidelity.

But let's talk a bit about the details too.

Back in March, Intern Elizabeth talked about E&P at Book Lovers Club and said:
This is the story of first love between two high school misfits during 1986 in Nebraska.  Eleanor is being bullied in high school because of her red hair and weight.  Both are shy outcasts and they form a silent bond over graphic novels.  He leaves her stacks of them on her bus seat.  They quickly fall into sixteen-year-old love, feeling that they are star-crossed lovers.  It is phenomenal.  It works because it is very realistic – the dialogue is spot on.  Rowell doesn’t make any false promises to her reader.  It is heartbreaking and excellent.
I think Elizabeth got the main plot and some appeal in here, so I will continue with a bit more appeal detail.

The novel is told with an alternating point of view between the two teens.  It switches often, but since the two live such different lives away from one and other, it is easy to keep the voices straight. This alternative pov also allows the love story to develop slowly. We see them fall in love at a realistic pace.  We see each of them struggle with their thoughts and feelings while they are away from each other.  This leads the book to be more romantic than romance. And, unlike many teen books today, there is no sex here.  Also, it is important to note that the ending is realistic-- wide open-- but in a realistic way.

By why do people LOVE this novel? It is for the characters-- all of them.  Eleanor and Park are so atypical for a novel that they feel like regular teens. Rowell gets the reader inside each of their heads so that we see all the details of being eccentric and trying to fit in, but also of just normal teen things, like wanting privacy from your younger siblings or problems at home with your parents. But what separates this novel is that it is not just Eleanor and Park who are well drawn.  Just about every character here is great.  Even the secondary characters are fleshed out. These are not your stock teen novel caricatures.  Some people grow and surprise you, others stay the same.  It is realistic in that way.

Others will be drawn to the 1980s setting. Specifically, all of the talk of movies and music from the era.  I especially enjoyed their reactions to the first issue of The Watchmen and discovering Elvis Costello. But there are also classic 1980s scenes on the bus, the mean popular girls, 80s clothes, etc...

Finally, in this era where every other teen book seems to be dystopian, it is nice to have an enjoyable, adorable, realistic novel with a thought provoking storyline (although not too deep) and great characters.

My personal opinion:  I liked E&P.  It was a very realistic YA romance novel, but I wonder if a teen today would like all the 1980s references. Eleanor and Park themselves would have been about 5 years older than me in 1986.  I was intrigued by all of the music and comics references because I lived through this time as a kid.  Most of the people I know who have read and enjoyed this book are adults.  The youngest are in their mid-to-late 20s. So, in terms of suggesting this to readers, I know I would give it to 30-50 year olds, but for teens... I think if I had a geeky or outcast kid, this would be perfect.  The teen reader would need to be eccentric, or see themselves as such in order to enjoy this novel. I think there are plenty of those, but it is not for every 21st century teen.  I mean do some of them even know what a Walkman is?  But the 80s are coming back in fashion, so maybe. Finally, I really think this is a "chick" book; I don't know too many teen boys I would suggest it to.

Three Words That Describe This Book: character centered, 1980s, adorable

Readalikes: As mentioned above, the realistic teen novels of John Green are a great match here.

Other authors who would be a good match, with reasons why are:
  • Gayle Forman writes character centered and emotionally charged realistic fiction.
  • Sarah Dessen writes about teenage girls and everything they go through, from the light fun stuff to serious issues.
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan is a great choice because it is about love, loss, and great music.  Actually Levithan's Boy Meets Boy would also be good.  The romance here is between two teen boys, but it is set in a world where being gay is cool.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is also a god match because both are about misfit teens trying to survive their first love and high school.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Love this post, love this book! And I think you're right about adults loving this YA title more than teens, although I know some hipster young adults who are really into the 80s so it might work for a certain reader :) Keep an eye out for Rainbow's new adult fiction titles Fan Girl (September) and Landline (Spring 2014)!